The Coloradoan takes a look at 2013’s top environmental concerns through the eyes of five experts

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Bobby Magill (Fort Collins Coloradoan) sat down with five experts from northern Colorado for an look at the top current environmental issues. Here’s an excerpt:

As the environmental challenges Northern Colorado faces in the coming years continue to mount, a look back at headlines of a half-decade ago shows how quickly the region’s environmental concerns have evolved.

Uranium mining, vehicle emissions testing, the bark beetle infestation, rules governing national forest roadless areas and the proposed Glade Reservoir all were among the top environmental issues of the day during the summers of 2008 and 2009.

Back then, controversy over the proposed Glade Reservoir was beginning to boil over, Larimer County residents were learning that emissions tests soon would be required for their vehicles and a company called Powertech was doubling the size of the area it wanted to use for a uranium mine east of Wellington.

The term “fracking” didn’t appear in the Coloradoan until the end of 2009. Oil and gas development in Northern Colorado wasn’t the subject of a news story until early 2010, when the Coloradoan reported that energy companies were likely to rush to Weld County after a well gushing “sweet crude” was drilled near Grover.

Today, Powertech’s uranium mining plans are on indefinite hold. Glade Reservoir is still in the environmental review process. Bark beetles have left millions of dead trees in their wake. Wildfires have ravaged the foothills. Emissions testing is a fact of life. The roadless issue is settled.

Fracking has become one of the region’s most controversial environmental and economic issues. And more attention than ever has turned to severe drought, extreme weather and climate change.

A water shortage in the Colorado River basin is becoming an urgent concern. Catastrophic wildfire is an annual reminder of ongoing drought. Farmers are fallowing their land because of uncertain water availability. The rapid expansion of the oil and gas industry throughout the region has had residents from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs worried about what that means for their air, water and quality of life.

In short, the region’s environmental challenges have changed quickly and dramatically in the past five years. The Coloradoan asked five experts, activists or policymakers what they think the most pressing of these issues are in the coming years and what can be done about them…

[Scott Denning] “Climate change is dramatically changing our forests,” he said. “What we have seen is the trees are dying out at the bottom of their range, and there aren’t lots and lots of seedlings replacing them. We may see deforestation of the foothills in our lifetime.”[…]

[Jenn Vervier] said the region’s most critical environmental issues are the health of the Poudre River watershed; the proximity of oil and gas development to homes, schools and the region’s water supply; over-allocation of the water in the Colorado River; climate change and exurban sprawl…

[Karen Weitkunat] “All other environmental problems have a direct connection to our water resource whether it is quality or quantity,” she said. “It has the most attainable solutions and greatest possibility for universal average citizen involvement since it impacts everyone and everyone shares in the desire for a positive outcome.”[…]

[Randy Fischer] said the list of concerning environmental challenges the region faces is long: Population growth, water quantity and quality, healthy rivers, fossil fuel development, deteriorating forest health, wildfire, climate change and air pollution.

“Readily available, evidence-based solutions exist for all of these concerns except for, perhaps, population growth, which is a driver for most of the environmental issues we face in Northern Colorado,” Fischer said. “Population projections by the state demographer predict that Colorado’s population could double by the year 2050…

[Gary Wockner] ranks population growth, climate change, fracking, destruction of rivers and unsupportive political leadership as the biggest environmental issues Northern Colorado currently faces.

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